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Money Quotes

24 May

I recently left Boston for New York City to be with my girlfriend.

She works as a junior research associate at an economic consulting firm. I regret to report that as of this moment I’m still on the hunt for full-time gainful employment.  For now I get by teaching guitar lessons over Skype and taking intermittent freelance writing gigs.  We live in a small, offensively priced studio on the Upper West Side.

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Tonight it’s raining. And when it rains I tend and like to sit by an open window, mixing alcohol with caffeine while I read literature. On this May evening I’ve had Martin Amis’s rather grimy novel Money in my lap. The book’s narrator, John Self, has some apt things to say about New York, some apt things to say about unemployment.

On the street awash in scrum outside my window:

I wondered, as I burped up Broadway, I wondered how this town ever got put together. Some guy was dreaming big all right. Starting down in Wall Street and nosing ever upward into the ruins of the old West Side, Broadway snakes through the island, the only curve in this world of grids. Somehow Broadway always contrives to be just that little bit shittier than the zones through which it bends. Look at the East Village: Broadway’s shittier than that. Look uptown, look at Columbus: Broadway’s shittier. Broadway is the moulting python of strict New York. I sometimes feel a bit like that myself. Here the fools sway to Manhattan time. (32)

And on the desolate nihilism and slow-boiling resentment of an unemployed, screwed-over generation:

And now I am one of the unemployed. What do we do all day? We sit on stoops and pause in loose knots on the stained pavements. The pavements are like threadless carpets after some atrocious route of flesh-frazzled food and emetic drink: last night the weather gods all drowned their sorrows, and then threw up from thirty thousand feet. We sit flummoxed in the parks, among low-caste flowers. Whew (we think), this life is slow. I came of age in the Sixties, when there were chances, when it was all there waiting. Now they seep out of school–to what? To nothing, to fuck-all. The young (you can see it in their faces), the stegosaurus-rugged no-hopers, the parrot-crested blankies–they’ve come up with an appropriate response to this, which is: nothing. Which is nothing, which is fuck-all. The dole-queue starts at the exit to the playground. Riots are their rumpus-room, sombre London their jungle-gym. Life is hoarded elsewhere by others. Money is so near you can almost touch it, but it is all on the other side–you can only press your face up against the glass. In my day, if you wanted, you could just drop out. You can’t drop out any more. Money has seen to that. There’s nowhere to go. You cannot hide out from money. You just cannot hide out from money any more. And so sometimes, when the nights are hot, they smash and grab. (144-145)

And this was in 1984! Oh, there is nothing new under the sun. I suggest readers think about the resonance of this passage in concert with the resonance of this comment by Eric Hobsbawm on the historically confounding austerity response to the financial crisis of the late 80s.

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Outside the rain is easing off. Broadway thrums with commuters, commercial life.  Now two white high school girls are screeching at one another as cooler heads drag them apart, still gesticulating with crimson-cheeked rage; now an immaculately dressed woman in her 50s looks on blithely while her geriatric dachshund squats, arthritic legs aquiver, to poop on the sidewalk.

Manhattan’s elite classes, for all their stringent co-op rules and wrinkled-nose disdain for the poor, are surprisingly okay with feces-smeared sidewalks and urine-soaked tree beds.


Farewell, Hitchens

17 Dec

When Andrea Dworkin died, both the press and her moderate feminist critics responded with a mélange of barely concealed glee and smug relief.

Christopher Hitchens was among the few to speak out in her defense. He lamented that the world had become a lonelier place without an Andrea Dworkin to dispute with. “[S]he could write, and think, and argue,” he wrote, “and it was often a pleasure to disagree violently with her, which is more than I can say for some of her detractors.”

I suspect this is how many feel at Hitchens’s own passing.

It’s certainly how I feel.


17 Jun

I haven’t yet plunged into the world of kindles and ipads, but I was wondering whether publishers have made it possible to purchase individual e-text versions of short stories and essays and compile them in what one might call mixbook format. It’d be like a mixtape, only instead of arranging a set of songs, one would be creating a mix of favorite short texts. I’d make for every teenage cousin, niece, and nephew a whimsically heterogeneous short story anthology including–hm, let’s see–okay, ‘Description of a Struggle’, ‘The Drowned Giant’, ‘Signs and Symbols’, ‘A Horse and Two Goats’, ‘The Circular Ruins’, ‘A Sign in Space’, ‘The Chipmunk and the Squirrel’, ‘Everything is Green’, ‘The Nose’, ‘Benito Cereno’, and ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’.

If there isn’t yet a way to do this, I expect a massive check ASAP for my amazing idea.

Readily accepting reality…

26 May

“There’s no need to look for a Chimera, or a cat with three legs,” Treviranus was saying as he brandished an imperious cigar. “We all know that the Tetrarch of Galilee is the possessor of the finest sapphires in the world. Someone, intending to steal them, came in here by mistake. Yarmolinsky got up; the robber had to kill him. What do you think?”

“It’s possible, but not interesting,” Lönnrot answered. “You will reply that reality hasn’t the slightest need to be of interest. And I’ll answer you that reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but that hypotheses may not. In the hypothesis you have postulated, chance intervenes largely. Here lies a dead rabbi; I should prefer a purely rabbinical explanation; not the imaginary mischances of an imaginary robber.”

–Jorge Luis Borges, Death and the Compass (1942)

A Post for the Graduating

10 May

I advise you all to read chapter 17 from P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves.  It contains what is doubtless the most memorable commencement speech in all of English literature.  I’ve excerpted the central chunk below the fold.

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